Insight on Buddhism’s Four Nutriments of Life

Wellbeing is about nourishing your senses, will, mind, and body.


(Teo Tarras /

Eating the right foods helps you feel healthy and strong. While you may already pay attention to what you take into your body physically, mindful consumption doesn’t just refer to the meals you eat each day. 

The Buddha explained, “There are four kinds of nutriments which enable living beings to grow and maintain life. What are these four nutriments? The first is edible food, the second is the food of sense impressions, the third is the food of volition, and the fourth is the food of consciousness.”

By examining your relationship with each of the four nourishments of life, you can maintain good physical and mental health, and live a more joyful life.

Feeding Your Body
People often think of diet in terms of looking good. But the food we eat doesn’t just impact how your jeans fit. It also provides the fuel your body needs to perform at its best.

Following the right diet can prevent most chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease, however, a well-balanced diet also supports mental health and cognition - talk about food for thought!

Much of the Buddhist philosophy on mindful eating reflects what scientists are now proving thousands of years later; to feel good, both physically and mentally, you need to eat a well-balanced diet

Tips to feed your body:

  • Consume minimally processed whole foods
  • Stay hydrated with lots of water and herbal teas
  • Savor foods by eating slowly
  • Avoid overeating

Feeding Your Senses
You don’t just consume with your mouth. Poeple also consume with their eyes, ears, nose, and skin. This is what the Buddha referred to as the “food of the senses.”

Sometimes feeding the senses can feel great. Watching an uplifting movie or listening to a friend speak can put a smile on your face.

But when you don’t pay attention, what you feed your senses can become toxic, like watching too much of the news or scrolling on social media. Left unchecked, you can overwhelm yourself with harmful “food for the senses,” which leads to great suffering - like anxiety, fear, and depression.

You can’t avoid every unpleasant experience, but you can decide how many sensory experiences you expose yourself to day in and day out. Like guards at the door, you can determine what you let in.  That means becoming aware of the books you read, the amount of television you watch, the people you listen to, the activities you engage in, and so on. 

Tips to feed your senses: 

  • Take notice of your activities throughout the day
  • Ask yourself: How does this make you feel? Does it feel calming and soothing? Or, alternately, does it make you feel agitated or depressed?
  • Reevaluate your habits. Include books, music, information, and other experiences that relieve suffering and help you feel at ease

Feeding Your Motivations
Food of volition is looking at what drives you. Our motivations, plans, and ambitions can build a life of great joy, or drag into a deep cycle of suffering. Think of it as your creative forces: to build or destroy, to struggle or conquer, to help or obstruct.

Getting clear on your motivations points your compass in a direction toward a peaceful, joyful life. It means looking deep down inside and asking whether your motives are leading to peace or suffering.

So what drives you? Do you tend to act out of love and compassion, always doing your best to assist and support those around you? Or, do you act out of pain, anger, and jealousy? You could see how someone acting out of toxic motivations could easily push others away and create misery in life and relationships.

Tips to feed your motivations:

  • Take notice of your daily actions and behaviors by writing them down in a journal.
  • Do you notice any patterns? 
  • Identify the motivation behind recurring behaviors.
  • Do you find that your habits tend to be helpful or harmful to yourself and others?
  • Redirect “toxic” patterns and replace them with helpful, constructive, or creative actions.

Feeding Your Thoughts

In our consciousness, we feed ourselves a storyline. Sometimes this storyline can be helpful. You tell yourself: “You can do it! Keep going! Don’t give up!”

But oftentimes you feed yourself a toxic narrative. Something unwelcome happens, and you get caught in a negative thought loop. You cause even more pain overthinking. Even a small incident can become a major source of anger or anxiety.

The Buddhist teaching of The Arrow is found in the Sallatha Sutta. It uses the metaphor of being pierced by an arrow twice. The teaching explains that pain is felt where the arrow first pierces, but when wounded a second time in the same spot, the pain felt is not two times worse but at least ten times more intense.

That’s why it becomes important to feed yourself with the right thoughts. When you identify harmful thoughts, through practices like meditation, you start to alleviate their impact on your storyline. You don’t continuously shoot yourself with arrow after arrow and cause even more damage.

Tips to feed your thoughts:

  • Become aware of your thought patterns, through practices like therapy, journaling, or mindful meditation
  • Identify limited thought patterns
  • Try to reverse habits of toxic thinking, through affirmations or by speaking to someone who can give an outside perspective

What you consume comes from your food, senses, motivations, and thoughts. And if you pay careful attention, you can ease your suffering and nourish your mind and body with the nutriments that make you feel full of joy. 

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